HALLOWEEN (2018): Caught Between Traditional Slash And Post-Modern Reboot

If you’re a horror fan born sometime between ’70s and the ’90s, there is a good chance that you grew up with slasher movie villains as the entry-level monsters of your childhood.  Just like baby boomers grew up with the Universal monsters omnipresent on t.v., the big slasher movie franchises loomed large for post-1970/pre-millenium horror kids via VHS and cable.

Thus, it’s no surprise the people who grew up with these human-yet-vaguely-supernatural monsters are trying to give them a fresh coat of paint for modern audiences.  Halloween is the latest attempt in this vein and the results are successful in some ways but less successful in others.

The 2018 edition of Halloween avoids the knots of prior sequel continuity by throwing them out entirely.  In this version of the tale, Michael Myers (James Jude Courtney AND Nick Castle) has been imprisoned since his 1978 killing spree and surviving victim Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) has struggled to carry on.  She’s been divorced twice, is estranged from her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and lives in an armed compound where she has spent years preparing for Michael’s return.

As Halloween arrives, Laurie is forced into action as Michael escapes from a bus while being transported to a new prison.  Caught in the crossfire is Allyson (Andi Matichak), Karen’s daughter and Laurie’s granddaughter.  With an assist from friendly cop Hawkins (Will Patton) and Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer), the current doctor studying Michael, Laurie sets out to stop Michael in his tracks. Of course, this is not as easy as planned, even with Laurie’s decades of survival training.

The resulting sequel moves quickly through its paces, delivering both tense setpieces and some post-modern laughs, but the whole never quite adds up to the sum of its parts.  The reason for this is that Halloween has plenty of good ideas but allows them all to crowd each other out.

For example, some scenes seem to develop a theme that the evil represented by Michael is able to return and lash out because people either write him off as an overblown legend or see him as fodder for revisionist history, the latter represented by a pair of obnoxious crime podcasters (Rhian Rees and Jefferson Hall).  Unfortunately, this idea of evil thriving due to a lack of respect for its power is never followed through on as the film throws it aside for the usual stalk and slash antics.

A bigger problem is that the film introduces a potentially fascinating trio of flawed but strong female protagonists with complicated relationships in Laurie, Karen and Allyson and then fails to develop them beyond a few broad strokes.  The exploration of their characterizations pretty much gets sidetracked after the first half hour in favor of developing Michael’s body count.  The power of the women’s bond is drawn on for the finale but this aspect of the film lacks the cathartic power it could have had because the film never develops it beyond a minor bit of pro-feminism lip service.

The purely “slasher film” parts of the new Halloween work, even if David Gordon Green’s suspense and atmosphere-development techniques pale in comparison to John Carpenter’s work.  Surprisingly, the kills in the midsection of the film are the most interesting horror element because of their interjection of pre-kill humor.  The writing team – Danny McBride, Green and Jeff Fradley – are able to draw on their comedy writing backgrounds to develop genuinely entertaining dialogue exchanges and bits of business for characters that would otherwise be cannon fodder. This gives the setups to their kills a liveliness that you never see in more business-oriented slasher films.

It’s also worth noting that new film punches above its weight class in terms of acting.  Curtis gives a memorably intense performance as the beleaguered once-and-future heroine, really helping the viewer to see past the semi-developed characterization and relationships.  Matichak and Greer (who has the least to work with here) lend credible support, as does Patton as the sympathetic cop.  Bilginer acquits himself nicely even though his character is little more than a retread of Dr. Loomis.

All in all, this Halloween is ultimately a mixed bag because it attempts too many things at once.  All its ambitions jockey for position, ensuring that the proceedings never find the focus and consistency of a classic. Truth be told, Halloween 4 does a better job of being an all-business slasher sequel and H20 did a better job at presenting Laurie Strode in a modern context.  There are enough interesting elements to make this film worth a look to the slasher diehards but don’t expect the instant classic that some are hyping it to be.

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